Frank Monaco didn’t ask to make the switch, but he sure is having a good time.
And the switch might be one of the main reasons his team is the defending Catholic League champion.
Monaco was a center midfielder when he started his career at Ryan. But last year, the team needed to shore up its defense, and asked Monaco to take a step back.
He was happy to do it.
“I played center-mid my sophomore year and (Ryan coach Ryan Haney) wanted me to play centerback,” Monaco said. “So I went along with the plan and it worked out pretty well. I just had to listen to the coaches and learn by playing and listening.
“It took me about half the season really to get comfortable playing back there. It’s a tough position to learn, but I feel a lot better back there.”
This year, he’ll be anchoring the defense for the Raiders, who are coming into the season as the kings of the Catholic League for the first time in nearly two decades.
Last year, the Raiders finished in fifth place during the regular season before going on an incredible run that included wins over Roman Catholic, La Salle and eventually Father Judge before a huge crowd at Northeast High School in the PCL finals.
Judge, the top finisher in the Catholic League a season ago, was tough in the title game, but Ryan won in dramatic fashion in penalty kicks after playing regulation and overtime to a 1-1 stalemate.
It was the perfect way to end the season for Monaco and his teammates, and he’s hoping they can do it again.
But he knows his role will have to change.
Last year, Ryan was loaded with good senior leaders. They’re now playing in college, and Monaco is ready to take that step to be the leader of the Raiders. That will be crucial if the Raiders have championship aspirations, and they certainly do.
“I do try to help, when I was a younger guy, I had great leaders, they always pushed us,” Monaco said. “I use what they tell me on these younger guys. I want to help them play better, but more to help them as men, as people. As an older player on the team, one of the older guys, it’s the main responsibility. I enjoy every bit of being a leader and I know how important it is. It helped me so much.
“My role is to be a leader, on and off the field, help the guys all the time. I mean, for the incoming freshmen, they were on the sideline watching the (championship) game. They didn’t feel what we felt, but they know what we had to do to get it done. And they’re ready to do it.”
Monaco has been very lucky in having great mentors.
His first coach was his dad. His sister Gianna was a star scorer at Ryan, leading the Ragdolls to two Catholic League championships before moving onto Holy Family. And he credits his teammates and coaches with helping him become one of the top defenders in the Catholic League.
The siblings have a great rivalry, but more than that, they are always there when the other one needs help.
Big sister comes through often for her little brother.
“My sister won two Catholic League championships and I finally got to win once,” Monaco said. “Now, it’s like a battle in the house for bragging rights. She always lets me hear it. It’s my last go around, so I have to tie her this year. But we are really close, she helps me with being a leader and stuff because she was a captain for two years, she has the experience of doing that.
“My dad has always been hard on me, he coached me since I was 4 with Lighthouse. He’s a great coach, he pushes everyone hard, but especially me, I think coaches always push their kids. It wasn’t easy, but he got the best out of all of us, especially me.
“I know he’s proud of what we did last year. After the game, he was the first one on the field. He was really proud.”
While mom isn’t much of a sports fan, she might be her son’s biggest.
“Not in soccer, my mom is my No. 1 supporter,” he said. “She’s always there for me whenever I need help on or off the field. I’m lucky, my family is very supportive.”
He hopes to give them another reason to celebrate before he goes moves on from Ryan. Beyond that is undecided, but he hopes to play college soccer.
He also has goals beyond another Catholic League championship, which is always the ultimate goal for the Raiders.
“I think we look really good so far,” said Monaco, who lives in Somerton. “We have some really good younger guys. The freshmen are now sophomores, the sophomores are all juniors and the juniors are all seniors. We learned a lot last year and we’re ready to take that next step. We have to do it.
“The perfect senior year would be to go back to back, and win the school’s first state championship. Coach Haney wants that since we never did it in our program. We want to be our school’s first. That’s what we’re working for.”